FCP X: Create a Picture-in-Picture Effect

Posted: December 18, 2011

A picture-in-picture effect is a very popular effect in that it allows us to see two images at once. This tutorial shows you how to create this in FCP X.

Here’s the end result – just so you know where I’m going with this.

Whenever you want two, or more, images displayed on the screen at the same time, you need to stack them vertically. In this example, Dr. Cerf’s talking head video is in the primary storyline, while the video of the spinning earth is connected above.

NOTE: Stacking order makes a difference. Lower clips are in the background, while higher clips are in the foreground. And, by default, all clips are 100% full-screen and 100% opaque.

Except… in this case, Dr. Cerf’s video is 4:3, while the earth is 16:9. Visually, this is a train wreck.

Select the higher clip – in this case, it’s the spinning Earth.

Then, you can either use the Transform controls in the Inspector, or the on-screen controls in the Viewer. In this example, I’ll use the on-screen controls.

With the Earth clip selected, click the rectangular Transform button in the lower left corner of the Viewer. The icon immediately turns blue.

At the same time, eight blue dots appear around the edge of the selected image.

Grab a dot along the edge to scale the image asymmetrically.

Drag a dot at a corner to scale the image symmetrically from the center of the image. Hold the Option key down and see how this changes how you scale the image — it scales from the opposite corner.

Hold the Shift key down, drag, and watch what happens.

Scale the image until it is essentially the size you want.

Click anywhere inside the image, and drag it into position.

Whenever you work with graphics in video, you need to keep both Action Safe and Title Safe in mind. To display these zones, click the switch in the top right corner of the Viewer and select Show Action/Title Safe Zones.

For broadcast, all essential text and logos needs to be contained inside the inner rectangle (Title Safe), while all essential action needs to be contained inside the outer rectangle (Action Safe). This is due to the nature of CRT-based TV sets — which still constitute the majority of how America watches TV.

However, for the web, we don’t have the same technical constraints, but we all have a lifetime of watching video graphics that take these boundaries into account. So my recommendation, when creating video for the web, is to confine all essential text, graphics, and logos inside the outer rectangle (Action Safe). It looks good and has a comfortable, well-designed feeling.

For this example, I’m going to position the image in the top right corner of Action Safe and click “Done.” This turns off the on-screen controls and locks the image into place.

Ta-DAH! Our effect is done. However, there are a variety of other adjustments we can make. Here are four of them:

1. Select the top clip, type Command+4 to open the Inspector (if it is closed), then click the blue Show button to reveal the Transform category of built-in effects.

Set the scale of the image to, say 40%. Using the Inspector allows you to be very precise in scaling one, or more, images to exactly the same size and position.

2. Select the leading edge of the effect and type Command+T — this applies the default cross-dissolve to the start of the clip.

3. Replace the cross-dissolve with a Slide (Effects Browser > Movements > Slide). Select the slide, then change the direction of the slide in the Inspector so it flies in from the right edge.

4. Let’s say you want to get rid of the space to the right of the Earth. The easiest way to do this is cropping. Select the Earth clip, then click the Crop icon in the lower left corner of the Viewer. The selected image has blue bars along the edges and corners.

Drag an edge, or corner, until the image is cropped the way you like. Click “Done,” which turns off the on-screen controls and locks the image.

Picture-in-picture is a great effect – and you are not limited to just one image, you can have has many pictures on screen as you can fit in the frame. Experiment with this and discover what works best for you!

(By the way, thanks to Dr. Vint Cerf, Alcatel/Lucent, and Pond5 for permission to use these images.)

11 Comments to “FCP X: Create a Picture-in-Picture Effect”
  1. Dan S. says:

    I have a question for you that I don’t understand. (Great seeing you at LAFCPUG by the way, you flat out rock!).

    In your instructions you state that, “Stacking order makes a difference. Lower clips are in the background, while higher clips are in the foreground.” But isn’t what you show reversed??? In your example the ‘earth’ is on top and Dr. Cerf is on the bottom. So shouldn’t Dr. Cerf (the lower clip) be in the background, and the earth (higher clip) be in the foreground? Please help me understand.

    Thanks Larry, again, you rock.

    • Larry Jordan says:


      Thanks for the kind words – I LOVE presenting to groups!

      Look at the timeline at the top of this article. The Earth clip is above the Cerf clip. This means that the image in the earth clip will be on top of (in the foreground of) the Dr. Cerf image – which is in the background. This is what I wrote.


  2. Alicia Ralph says:

    I’m trying to get a stack of 3 clips and a title, all the same length, to transition from black, then after say 10 seconds, fade to black. I’ve got a 3 transformed clips, each playing video, rather like 3 pictures lined up across the screen and a title running under them. When I add a transition manually to each item, the transition length will then vary the length of the time each clip and title appear together. The result is that the clips fade out at different times. Looks messy. The clip in the story line appears to grow longest, but, is there a right way to get the transition I’m after? Do I have to try and keyframe each clip? I have about 15 little groupings I’m trying to do this on.

    • Larry Jordan says:


      Two ways to do this:

      1. Collect all your clips into a Compound clip in the timeline, then apply the transition to the compound clip.
      2. Put a gap (black) at the top of all clips, with a duration equal to the length of the transition. Then, apply a transition to the cap. The clips will fade from black to full-screen all at the duration of the transition.


  3. Brook says:

    Hi. Please help. I’d like to go further the PIP and zoom into the smaller video to make that the main clip and toggle back and forth while keeping the PIP effect. For example: while Dr. Clef is talking about the earth and we see the earth spinning in PIP. Is it possible to expand the pip image (like zooming in), so we see the earth only, then later shrink the earth video to the small PIP and we see the Dr. again?

    Hope this makes sense. Thanks for your help.

    • LarryJ says:


      Easy. Just as we set keyframes to animate the position of the earth image, we can use keyframes and the Scale parameter, also in the Transform section, to change the size of the earth.

      Set a Scale keyframe when you want the image to change size, move the playhead to where you want the zoom to stop and adjust scale until the earth is the size you want. Move the playhead to the point you want the next resizing to occur and, again, adjust Scale to suit.

      Keyframes are always created at the position of the playhead – and, as long as you set the first Scale keyframe manually, all the rest of the keyframes will set automatically each time to change the Scale slider.


      • Brook says:

        Thank you sooooo much!!!! I’ve been searching all over google and YouTube for the solution! You are brilliant! Thanks a million!!!!!

  4. Terence says:

    Hi Larry,

    This tutorial has been fantastically helpful – Thanks! I came up against a snag when I tried to add a transition (fade to colour) between two clips in my PIP. Instead of just the PIP clips fading in and out, the whole main storyline video does so. I’m not sure what I did wrong or how to fix this. Thanks if you can point me in the right direction.

    • Larry Jordan says:


      Try putting the two clips into a compound clip, then apply the effect INSIDE the compound clip. If that doesn’t work, apply the effect to the compound clip itself.


      • Terence says:

        FYI: Thanks, Larry – I tried that, but I think this is a FCPX glitch with with this particular “fade to colour” crossfade. I added the cross dissolve instead and that works fine within just the PIP. So I’m happy with that. If I was being really particular I could use two cross dissolves with a black generator in between. Job done.

        I generally only use these basic crossfades, so have no idea if this anomaly exists with other types other than fade to colour.


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